The Best Ways to Measure Productivity of Remote Working Vs. Office — Robert Pozen

As the U.S. continues to transition to a much more remote environment, many leaders and teams are deciding on the best productivity methods, whether you are working from home, hybrid, or in the office. 

Today on the Atlanta Small Business Show, we’re pleased to welcome Robert ‘Bob’ Pozen, New York Times best-selling author, keynote speaker, business coach, lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the former Vice Chairman of Fidelity Investments and President of Fidelity Management & Research Company.

Pozen also co-authored Remote, Inc.: How to Thrive at Work…Wherever You Are (released in 2021)and he joins us today to discuss the book and his top productivity tips.

Transcription:

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Robert, thank you so much for joining us on the show. We very much appreciate it.

Robert Pozen:
Glad to be with you, Jim.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure. So let’s jump right in here. Tell us a little bit about Remote, Inc, and the inspiration behind writing it.

Robert Pozen:
Well, we started thinking about doing Remote, Inc as soon as people started working remotely during COVID and we were able to produce the book in record time and we wrote it, my coauthor and I without ever meeting, we were working remotely and then we produced it in four or five months, and then it got published in 2021. So our effort was to help people navigate the, what’s the new normal, where people were working highly in remote areas. And that’s what we tried to do. We tried to have a conceptual framework and then lots of practical suggestions about how to do it.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure. And there are a lot of questions surrounding this on both sides, whether it be leadership and management, or the workers that are out there that are trying to figure this whole remote situation out.

Robert Pozen:
Absolutely. People are struggling with this and it’s evolving as we speak.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. Yeah. There’s no question about it. So how should a company decide on the design of its hybrid workplace today? There’s so many things that are facing companies and teams out there, leadership teams out there, how do you make that decision? What does that look like?

Robert Pozen:
Well, I think most companies will go hybrid. There are a small number that will go totally remote and some people are pushing to have everybody go back to the office full time, but I don’t think that’s going to hold. So hybrid meaning some days in the office and some days at home. So the first thing to know about this is, we argue that the key to doing this is to have a team focus, in any company or other type of organization there are a series of teams. There could be a finance team, a marketing team, customer service team, IT team, and each of these teams is different. So the first thing to know about making this decision is don’t try to have the same answer for every team in your organization, let each team look at it at the factors that are relevant and decide what’s best for them.
So what are the factors? My coauthor and I wrote a piece in the New York Times and we argued for FLOCS, F-L-O-C-S. So the first, the most important factor is function. What’s the function of the team? How much collaboration is required? How much creativity is required? That tends to militate to have people together. But lots of teams are doing concentrated individual work. And so that can be best done at home. So you got to look very carefully at what the function of the team is and understand that. L is for location. Are you all around one metropolitan area, then it might make more sense to come together, but if you’re scattered throughout the United States or scattered throughout the world, well, that’s a different story. O is for organization. What’s the structure of your organization? Does it require people to be coordinating a lot, or does it allow them to go and do concentrated work?
C is for culture, and that’s the most diffuse, but pretty important. How do people learn the culture of the firm? We argue that when people are hired, they should try to come into the office and see how other people are working, what we might call the apprenticeship model of learning. And then you have to meet your clients first we say in-person, but after that, you can talk to them remotely. So you got to really understand the culture. And last is scheduling. So, that’s the practical side if you’re going to have people come in the office, they ought to come in the same days. And if you can have rotation through space, that’s the best, because you could have two teams that both use the same office space, but one comes in say Tuesdays and Thursdays and the other comes in Monday and Wednesday. That will save a lot of real estate space, and it will also help you get people to be in the office at the same time so they can do the functions that require in-person altogether in those days.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
We’ve spoken to some associates of companies and employees of companies that have said they see having to come into the office one or two days out of the week as almost some sort of, one associate said, it was an ego trip to the boss to say, hey, you got to come in. We got to be here. When in reality, at the end of the day, some employees felt that they were much more productive in their offices at home. They didn’t have the commute time. They felt as though in some cases it might have been a waste of time to have to come down to the headquarters just to make a showing. One employee said to me, I felt as though I was just trying to justify this big commercial real estate spend that the company had each month on their balance sheet. When in reality, I was much more productive at home. A, have you heard that kind of feedback, and B what would your recommendation be in that team setup?

Robert Pozen:
I’ve heard that feedback where people say, they’d rather be at home all the time, but I think the reality is that there are some important functions that can only be played when the group gets together. And so we would say, one is collaboration. Yes, you can collaborate through Zoom, but it’s much easier if you’re in the same place and you can get together and really work. Same thing for brainstorming. Creativity of that sort really is much easier to do when you’re in-person. And then, just as I said, learning the culture of the company, how do you understand how people treat each other in the company? How do you understand the informal morales? Those things are really hard to do if you’re not in the office. So yes, people can be more productive in certain respects and in certain areas when working from home.
So I wouldn’t say that people should come in the office every day. I think that’s a real mistake, but what you want to do is have people come in the office one or two days a week, and then to put in those one or two days the activities that really demand that people be in-person and that highlight creativity, collaboration, coordination, and these sorts of functions.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure. And do you think that if we’re having this discussion 20 years from now that the vast majority of workers out there would be working remotely, do you think that’s is the trend?

Robert Pozen:
Well, I think the trend is toward hybrid work, not toward a hundred percent remote, because if you’re a hundred percent remote, you don’t have really that stronger connection to your company. We’ve been in the situation where there was a lot of social capital that was built up over the last five or 10 years, and then you’re drawing on that as you’re going forward. But if people went for 10 or 20 years remotely and never got together, then they wouldn’t really develop the friendships, the informal connections that are really necessary for a company to thrive. They wouldn’t have a way to really evolve the culture. So I think 20 years from now, we’re going to see a hybrid workplace, because I think people are going to find that certain things are done better in-person and certain things are done better at home.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure. Now we’ve heard from a number of business owners and leaders of companies, and they’ve said that because of this work, this remote work environment that we find ourselves in right now, and even in a hybrid situation, they’re able to get talent from all over the country, if not the world, to do the job. In some cases, it benefits the company because they don’t have to pay, if you’re in New York City, you don’t have to pay six figures for an employee that might make 30, 40, or $50,000 in other areas of the country, you’re able to hire them to still do the same work. I’m sure that you’ve heard that. How does a hybrid work environment work when a company starts to reach out to other areas of the country to bring that talent into their company?

Robert Pozen:
Yeah. So for certain areas in certain types of function makes a lot of sense to reach out, the technology platform is a good example of something where you can get people from all over and they can work pretty well. But if you have employees scattered throughout the company, let’s assume you have your technology team, you’re going to have, to have some way for them to get together occasionally. So that could be, let’s come to company headquarters for one week a month, or it could be that you’ll develop satellite offices where you’ll have two or three satellites where people will come in.
And so I think even when you have employees scattered throughout the company, there’s still a strong argument for building culture, building coordination, building these informal friendships and connections, but you’ve got to figure out how to do that. So you can have other ways for people to meet, they wouldn’t be coming in the office two or three days a week, but they might come in, as I said, one week a month, or if it’s a global organization, maybe you have people meet several times a year. What you’re seeing in a lot of companies, they’re developing say they were headquartered in New York, maybe they moved their headquarters to Florida, but then they will have a satellite office in Chicago, a satellite office in Utah. And in those satellite offices, people will gather and develop some of those relationships.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure, sure. As you know, there’s a real battle taking place right now to attract talent and to obtain talent for companies out there. What do you say to those companies that say, today we’re being interviewed by the applicant as much as we are interviewing them. And the top of the list of these questions from the person that’s applying for these position is, can I work remotely? What’s your take on that for somebody that says, look, I’m looking for just a remote environment, I don’t want to make the commute in, or maybe I’ve got small kids, or I’ve got a situation at home? I can do the job, but I can’t pick certain days of the week just to come into the office.

Robert Pozen:
You’ve got to make a trade-off. So if you’re talking to that person again, the first question is what’s the function of the person, and is that function one that could be done entirely remote. And there are some jobs like say answering phones for customer service. So you can have that job where you’re mainly remote. You could get together once a month and have some collaboration. So I think I would say to these people look carefully at the function and think about whether that function really requires people to be in the office several days a week. It may very well not, but that’s very different than saying you can be totally remote and never get together. So I would say those employers, exhibit flexibility, look carefully at the functions and try to reach a design of a hybrid that makes sense. It might be 80% remote and 20% in-person, doesn’t have to be 50/50.
But I think the other thing is we’re now in a time of the lowest unemployment that we’ve ever had. And so we’re in that phase, but we’re moving, the economy is slowing. I don’t know whether we’re going to go into a recession, but the growth projections are coming way down. People’s hiring is coming way down. So I think we’re coming out—in which people, employers are particularly hard pressed to get employees. But I think that balance of power is going to change a lot over the next year.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Interesting. Interesting. In your book you talk about business of one. What does that mean?

Robert Pozen:
Well, what we say is when you’re working remotely, you shouldn’t be counting hours. The critical question is what are you getting accomplished? And so you and your boss can agree on, here are what we call success metrics. Here are the objectives that we’re going to fulfill and here are the success metrics. So we’re all going to know whether you achieve them or not at the end of the week or the month. But then, and this is the key to a business, one is that it’s up to you when and where and how you achieve those success metrics, and your bosses in telling you how to work each hour, each day, you have a set of objectives and success metrics due at the end of the month, it’s up to you to do it. So it’s more like you’re like an independent contractor. You have to deliver, you know what your deliverables are, but then you have the autonomy to get the work done the way you think it should be done.
And these success metrics and autonomy we’ve seen are really the key to both employee satisfaction and productivity. When the employees have that level of autonomy, that’s really critical. And that’s what makes them happier. It makes them more productive.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure, sure. We just saw a company, Airbnb that just made the announcement that everybody, their entire workforce will be working remotely. Can a company succeed today with an entire remote workforce?

Robert Pozen:
I think they can succeed with an entire workforce, as long as they have some in-person events and some in-person activities. So one critical thing is when you onboard people, you need to have them come into the office so that they can meet other people and learn what the culture is. Second of all, you can’t just have people who never meet. As I said, they need to meet, if it’s a global workforce or regional workforce, maybe once a month, once a quarter, but there needs to be some way for them to come together and have those connections, have the brainstorming, have the coordination, develop the relationships. So I don’t think when we say that Airbnb is totally remote, I believe that they will have some in-person activities I think, otherwise they’re not going to be able to hold their workforce.
And think about it, if you recruit people, you train them, you do all this. What’s the staying connection if they’ve never met anybody? Are they really going to just stay with the company, or then you’re just going to hop to another company as soon as somebody offers them any more money, because they don’t have the connection. They don’t have that sense of belonging to Airbnb or whatever company it is.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure. Do you think that transcends different generations and in terms of baby boomers versus millennials or generation Z, do you think that, that’s a different feeling as you go from generation to generation?

Robert Pozen:
Well, I think that’s a fair point, and the younger generations are more comfortable with remote work. But again, we shouldn’t think of this as an all or nothing situation. When you say a company’s going totally remote, I doubt it. They’re going to have some, whether it’s in-person orientation or quarterly meetings, some ways in which people are going to get to know each other and have some informal connections. And so I think that’s what we’re going to do. And I think that millennials may feel, and they probably do feel, and generation Z or X, whatever you’re going to call them, are going to feel more comfortable doing that. But I go back again and again to this, I don’t believe there’s going to be any successful company that’s totally remote. The question is, what is the way in which they will gather in-person. And that can be, doesn’t have to be two days a week, but it has to be something.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
It’s a very good point, and it makes sense. Robert, one last question, do you think we’d be in this environment right now, even talking about a remote workforce or a hybrid workforce, if COVID had never happened to us?

Robert Pozen:
I think COVID accelerated the trends that were already starting to manifest itself. I think we saw people less tethered to a headquarters’s office. We see that in lots of different companies, but COVID forced everybody to go cold turkey into this remote environment. And a lot of them found that they liked it, they liked working from home, but people, we’ve done all these surveys of people, people working from home also feel a little isolated, a little lonely.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah.

Robert Pozen:
And these companies will be well served, not by requiring everybody to come in three days a week, but to figure out what will satisfy their employees, how will they build the connection? Will it be satellite offices, quarterly in-person meetings? These are the sorts of things that people are going to have to do. And clearly COVID was like a natural experiment, it forced everybody to understand what they could do remotely. And so that’s why I think it’s here to stay. But again, it’s not a hundred percent remote, it’s 50% remote, 80% remote, whatever makes sense. Do you realize that something like half the jobs in the United States require that you be physically present? Just think about manufacturing jobs-.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Restaurants.

Robert Pozen:
… Restaurants.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah.

Robert Pozen:
Think about police, fire people. So, the notion that we’re going to go totally remote is just unrealistic. There’s one category of jobs where being physically present is pretty much required. And so they’re all going to be like 90% required. And there are the knowledge based, information based jobs which can be remote and there will be remote to a significant degree, but not totally.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Very interesting. Remote, Inc: How to Thrive at Work is the name of the book, and that’s Wherever You Are, I should add. And this is a book that you definitely want to get your hands on if you’re a leader, you’re in management, you’re an employee that’s still trying to figure this whole situation out, but highly recommended. There’s a link right below this interview with Robert today. And it’ll take you right over to Amazon so that you can pick the book up, highly recommended. And so Robert Pozen, New York Times bestselling selling author, keynote speaker, incredible coach, an incredible guy. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your very busy schedule to join us on the show.

Robert Pozen:
Thank you, Jim. I’m glad to be with you.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Great. Thank you.


The Atlanta Small Business Network, from start-up to success, we are your go-to resource for small business news, expert advice, information, and event coverage.

While you’re here, don’t forget to subscribe to our email newsletter for all the latest business news know-how from Atlanta Small Business Network.